‘You’ve made a mistake’: Iran’s supreme leader targets Donald Trump for quitting nuclear deal while lawmakers burn US flags

President Hassan Rowhani has said he will hold talks with the other parties to the 2015 agreement – Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 May, 2018, 7:31pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 May, 2018, 12:01am

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that Tehran would quit the international deal nuclear deal unless European signatories offered solid guarantees that trade relations would continue after the US withdrew.

Addressing Iran’s government in a televised speech, Khamenei said: “If you don’t succeed in obtaining a definitive guarantee – and I really doubt that you can – at that moment, we cannot continue like this.”

Khamenei heaped scorn on US President Donald Trump, who confirmed the US withdrawal, claiming Iran had breached the deal.

“You heard last night that the president of America made some silly and superficial comments,” Khamenei said. “He had maybe more than 10 lies in his comments. He threatened the regime and the people, saying I’ll do this and that. Mr Trump, I tell you on behalf of the Iranian people: You’ve made a mistake.

Mr Trump, I tell you on behalf of the Iranian people: You’ve made a mistake
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

“This man will turn to dust and his body will become food for snakes and ants. And the Islamic Republic will still be standing.”

In the Iranian parliament, several lawmakers took to the podium ahead of the session’s opening, where they burned the US flag as well as the text of the nuclear deal, state TV reported.

“The American nation is at the hands of a self-centred and politically inexperienced person,” parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told the assembly, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. “We have dealt with conditions worse than these in the past 40 years and will give a response that will make the US [regret its decision].”

Germany, France and Britain will “do everything” to ensure that Iran remains in the deal, Chancellor Angela Merkel vowed on Wednesday.

“We will remain committed to this agreement and will do everything to ensure that Iran complies with the deal,” Merkel said, adding that Berlin had made the decision jointly with Paris and London.

However, Iran finds itself in a tricky balancing act as it weighs a response to Trump’s decision to pull out of the landmark deal.

“They need to find a response that keeps the Europeans on their side but also shows they can’t just be pushed around,” said a Western diplomat in Tehran. “That seems pretty difficult.”

For now, President Hassan Rowhani has said he will hold talks with the other parties to the 2015 agreement – Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.

He has said there will only be a “short period” in which to assess whether Iran’s interests can still be preserved in concert with the remaining parties.

Some analysts say Iran could retaliate by causing trouble for US interests across the Middle East, where the Islamic Republic has widespread influence and large proxy forces.

“Iran will push back, to show that it cannot be bullied,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “Iran’s main response … will probably be asymmetrical, harming US interests in other realms, such as Syria and Iraq. While it may not be immediate, a push-back is inevitable.”

Speaking immediately after Trump’s announcement, Rowhani said he had instructed the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation “to take the necessary measures for future actions so that if necessary we can resume industrial enrichment without limit”.

The head of the organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said in recent months that Iran is ready to resume high-level uranium enrichment to 20 per cent “within five days”.

“We will wait several weeks before applying this decision. We will speak with our friends and allies, the other members of the nuclear agreement,” Rowhani said on Tuesday.

The deal restricted Iran to enrichment to around 3.5 per cent, the level needed for nuclear power stations.

They need to find a response that keeps the Europeans on their side but also shows they can’t just be pushed around
Western diplomat

Although 20 per cent is still within civilian use limits, the move would mean Iran was building up a stock that could then be enriched to military-grade levels of 80 per cent or more.

Rowhani said on Monday that Iran would stay in the agreement even if the United States pulled out.

But he wants assurances that Iran’s interests – primarily trade benefits from the deal – will be preserved.

“Either what we want from the nuclear deal is guaranteed by the non-American parties, or it is not the case and we will follow our own path,” he said in a statement.

Europe has been adamant that it wants to preserve the accord, but Washington has already threatened that European businesses in Iran must be wound down within six months.

Parliament speaker Ali Larijani said that Europe had caved to US pressure before, having seen many of its businesses shut up shop under previous international sanctions from 2012-15.

“We can’t put much confidence in their statements about preserving the agreement, but it’s worth testing for a few weeks so that it’s clear to the world that Iran has tried all the avenues to a peaceful political resolution,” Larijani told parliament on Wednesday.

Russia and China are less exposed to US markets and therefore better placed to resist Washington’s economic pressure.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said recently that a top priority in Iran’s foreign policy today was “preferring East to West”.

That reflects Iran’s strengthening of relations with Russia, an ally in the Syrian conflict, and with China, which has no qualms about its business ties to the Islamic republic.

Khamenei has also warned in the past that Iran would burn the nuclear deal if the US walked out.

But while he has ultimate authority in Iran, any decision will emerge from discussions between officials from across the political spectrum.

Agence France-Presse, Reuters and Bloomberg